New drug appears to slow Alzheimer's degenerative process

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The drug verubecestat is showing promise at targeting the brain processes that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. (KABC)

Researchers say it has been over a decade since a new drug was approved for the treatment of dementia. Now scientists are working to target the root of Alzheimer's disease.

A new experimental therapy is showing promise.

Alzheimer's is a complex disease involving numerous chemical cascades that lead to plaque, tangles and the ultimate destruction of brain cells.

USC pharmacy and gerontology professor Dr. Bradley Williams was well aware of this, yet when his close relatives succumbed to the disease, he found it difficult to think academically.

"Sometimes when you are so close to it, you miss those signs," said Williams.

As a caregiver, he watched potentially promising scientific breakthroughs come and go, but a new treatment has caught the attention of researchers worldwide.

In a report published in Science Translational Medicine, British researchers said a drug called verubecestat appears to prevent the sticky amyloid plaques in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Arthur Toga with USC says it's an exciting development.

"We want to arrest the progression of the disease as early as possible," said Toga.

The drug verubecestat inhibits the enzyme that helps produce plaques and tangles in the brain. In mice studies, researchers found that plaques and tangles were reduced in the spinal fluid and in brain tissue.

"The notion is to try to get early in the cascade of this degenerative process so we avoid the death of these cells which causes the problems," said Toga.

In human trials, the drug lowered beta-amyloid plaque without serious side effects. But while the drug appears to reduce markers of Alzheimer's disease, larger studies are currently underway to see if the drug also reduces symptoms.

At the age of 85, the average American has a one in three chance of getting Alzheimer's disease.
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